Do you really want to be a new...

First Time --- Owner/Operator

               

 

A short time ago I met a tanker driver, middle aged, and loaded with experience. He asked me about becoming an owner/operator. He was at present working for a major oil company, as a hired driver. Originally from Newfoundland, he would pack up his family and head down east for a holiday. While waiting at the ferry docks for passage to the island, he would talk to the transport drivers that were waiting to board ship, or make a trailer switch. He thought that, that would be a good deal. Be an owner/operator, doing switches at the docks from Ontario. Then he could have his cake and eat it to, so to speak. He seemed really cranked up about the prospect.

He came across my web site and sent me a note asking my advice on what I thought of his idea. I responded with what I had experienced, and told it EXACTLY LIKE IT WAS FOR ME.

I am showing our correspondence here, so as you can decide for yourself if you would like to become an owner/operator in this day and age. I have changed my friends name so as he can remain anonymous, for it is my comments that you may or may not agree with........

Starting with his initial inquiries;

NOTE; --- Any reference to the ROCK, in Canada, is about the Province of  NEWFOUNDLAND, the most favourite island in Canada's, North Atlantic.

 

Hi,

My name is Cliff, 36 and I have an acmz class license. I have been driving fuel tanker since 1989, but I don't have a lot of road time. I was thinking of becoming an o/o and would like to run switches down east at the ferry terminal. I am from Newfoundland and drive back and forth all the time and love it. What do you think?

Cliff Dover

Oakville, Ontario

Hi Cliff;

If you could give me more info on what you want, and what & where you are now, I would be glad to give you an honest and unbiased opinion of what I would do in your shoes. I always tell things like it is. No BS. Some bosses were sort of intimidated because I laid it out on the table and took no crap. It seemed to scare some of them.

If you could, and you are serious, let me know where you are working out of at the present, along with your actual experience.  Are you married? Have kids? What are you thinking about when you say switch at the docks? Picking up containers or Trailers at the ferries? It has been quite some time since I ran the Maritimes & the Rock (Newfoundland). I may have to refresh myself with who is running down East at this time, and what they are doing.

If you could pass me that type of information, I would gladly try and help you to make a decision. What I am not sure of, about the trucking companies that are operating today; I will research them for you. Just remember, what I would have to say, you may or may not like. But you will have to decide in the end, for yourself. OK?

In the meantime, you take care; drive safe, and I will wait for your answer, --- OLD BILL. (Diesel Gypsy).

 

 

Hi Bill,

I bought a house a few years back in Oakville with my wife and two boys. I have lived in the Toronto area for over 20 years. I have worked in the aviation industry for about 18-years running fuel trucks at Pearson International Airport. I am also an oil burner Tec. and a petroleum Tec. If it burns fuel or holds it I have worked on it. I have always had a love for big truck and the road. I am Ontario licensed ACMZ, A is for unlimited commercial, C is for highway bus, and M is for motorcycle. Z is for my air brake endorsement. My road time in trucks is very little. All my time is in tankers with 1863 jet fuel,1203 100LL avgas and some gas and diesel. I love to drive, my family and I load up the car and east we go. We also have a home on the rock, so we go back to stay and visit. When I am on the road I feel free. At the Sydney ferry terminal it is a bustle of activity, trucks everywhere from all over. Some of the companies are Amour, Cabano Kingsway, Midland Transport, Sunbury and Day and Ross to name a few. Most that I can see is that they are dropping and picking up another, and back they go. Unless there is a specialty load. The drivers I see and talk to are not to open about the industry and don't say much about it, but there trucks are spotless and shinny. Some seem a little bitter about it. The roads going east are mostly all new and is a great drive including the rock. Well any info or advice would be great.

Thanks Bill

Cliff Dover, Oakville, Ontario

From there I gave him my response;

Hi Cliff; --- Good or bad, here it is,

The first thing that you have going for you that my two friends and I never had, is a backup trade. The burner service & petroleum Tec is a great backup to have. We only had our commercial trucking license to work with. It was a way to put the bread on the table at the time. It kept us between a rock and a hard place. Not having a trade for a backup, we could not make enough money off the road to survive, or retrain for something else. We were stuck with it.

I know what work you are doing now. I hauled de-icing fluid into Pearson, as well as jet fuel, through TRIMAC. It was a company truck at the time, and being in the union and at the bottom of the list, I was the one called on to run these loads during the worst blizzards, weekends, and holidays. The senior men usually did not want to do the dirty weather. I understand and know the type of work that you are in now.

The Trimac work years later, became a great place for me as an O/O. I had some great trips, and made a good living. As usual, things are not all hearts and flowers in this life. It had its downside too. For one, the day I turned 65, I was notified that my services would no longer be required. It was company policy to terminate OLD DRIVERS, even owner/operator contractors. Unfortunately, I fell under that policy. Hopefully you will not have to have the experience of having the proverbial cattle prod stuck up your butt. (In theory that is) Ouch! I parked the truck for the winter and tried to sell it. Unfortunately, again it was the worst time. Trucks were being repossessed as fast as they were being sold. The fuel skyrocket out of sight and the companies did nothing to help the broker to ease the pain. The rates stayed low and the broker had to absorb the increase in price. (Again) When the surcharge on fuel was brought in, most of the companies kept it and did not pass it on to the O/O. You can probably look forward to it happening again in the near future.

Six months went by and there were no buyers for the truck. Trimac called me back and wanted to know if I could come back for a time. It seems that to their great discovery, the only ones that had the dangerous goods experience, (Bad-bad chemicals, PCBs & explosives) either had grey hair or no hair. In other words, they could not find any new recruits to replace the old guys. I went back under the condition that I would advertise my truck for sale with the job to a qualified driver. They Okíd it. I advertised across Canada and the US terminals, and after 5 months I finally sold to another company driver whose truck finally gave up the ghost. He knew my reputation for service to my equipment, and took it right away, rather than go for a new truck. It is still running coast to coast, trouble free.

What I am trying to say here, is that the profitable days of trucking are gone. The amount of time and expense necessary to stay in business is phenomenal. The rates are nowhere near the cost of operating today. The most popular solution for a transport company to keep costs down to day is to hire Owner/Operators. The company sets the rates in their favour. You in turn have to supply the equipment. Even a tractor only, will cost, fully and properly equipped for the job (no chrome) well over $100,000 CDN. Now for that kind of investment you should expect to come up with a hefty profit. Not so, the company rates will not allow you to make money. That is why they hire brokers. If it was still profitable as in the old days, they would have their own fleet. They do not pay pensions, medical plans, insurance, repairs or even payments. If they do have a medical plan, the O/O's are usually paying the premiums. If you have trouble getting enough miles to make your 2 to 4,000 dollar a month payments, that is your loss. If things are slow, and the miles are low, the payments never let up. In all the years I have trucked, I have only known of a few truckers who were able to work up enough money to pay cash for the next truck. In 2 cases, old dad supplied it.

Man, I think that this note is going to be the most negative, in the trucking industry. Sorry about that. I hate to say it, but sometimes the truth hurts.

I will try and answer this statement, ---

----- At the Sydney ferry terminal it is a bushel of activity, trucks everywhere from all over. Some of the companies are Armour, Cabano Kingsway, Midland Transport, Sunbury and Day and Ross to name a few. Most that I can see is that they are dropping a picking another and back they go. Unless there is a specialty load. The drivers I see and talk to are not to open about the industry and don't say much about it, but there trucks are spotless and shinny. Some seem a little bitter about it. -----

These company trucks that you see dropping trailers at the docks are in transit to and from someplace different. Most of them end up running the dreaded Eastern Seaboard. Most are there for the one switch. It is cheaper for the companies to keep a number of drivers on the Rock side to deliver and return loads to the docks, than to take the load directly through. When I was on the PCBs, we could not let anyone use our trailers or even touch them. We had to do it all from start to finish.

The attitude of the drivers you talked to were probably from their frustration with a business that they canít get out of. Yes the glory of the polished big rig is magnetic. I still like them, but the practical side of it, is that the O/O will not receive any support, cost wise, and will be left hanging out on a limb to fend for himself.

I understand that the grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence. In this case it is not so. Years ago when I first started, all the drivers used to put in upwards of 100 hrs a week for peanuts. The thing was that it was actually fun, killing ourselves. We did all the things that most, but not all truckers, today will not do, like getting dirty, and doing heavy physical work. Trucking was hard work, stressful and exciting. Not today. It is 100% stress, coupled with unbelievable financial problems.

I feel sorry for the drivers that wanted their own truck so bad that they mortgaged their home for the down payment, only to lose it all, and in some cases, their families too.

After years of restaurant eating and cramped up sleeping, your health will start to take the skids. I know, because the 3 of us have our bodies coming apart now, and at an ever increasing rate. They both have had heart by-pass surgery, I was lucky; I did mostly heavy physical work, and kept in pretty good shape all my life. All 3 of us are retired, and no pensions other than the government. After 50 years each, none of us made it rich, even with years as brokers. The only ones to make money today on trucks are the Banks and Truck manufacturers.

Are you getting depressed yet?

Cliff, you have a great deal right now, whether you like it or not. Letís be realistic, and look around you, check out the offerings of trucking companies towards their O/O, and see what they offer. Weigh it against the cost. Remember, THE MAGIC WORD IN ANY BUSINESS IS --- NET --- NOT GROSS. Some will tell you that you can GROSS $100,000 a year. It sounds really impressive. What they do not tell you is that it could cost you $105,000 a year to operate. It has become one hell of a rat race, cutthroat business these days.

Look at it this way; you have the proverbial world by the ass right now. You have two homes; two kids that you are close enough to keep under your thumb. You get to travel down east. I assume the timing for the trip is your own decision. Above all, you have the security of a job when you get back. You are not spending your time off, repairing your truck.

I would suggest that if you are really, really wanting to make this change why not go and buy an old tractor and restore it as a hobby. In time when you get it finished, get yourself a fifth wheeler trailer, to run trips in. No commercial licensing, go anywhere, have your cake and eat it too. Thatís what some other drivers have done, and they think it is great. It is the best way to bring a dream to reality.

Well I guess by now that you have figured out what I think of todayís trucking business. In my opinion, it was all over about 10 to 15 years ago. Check with other O/O and you will find that most all your waiting time today will be at the Canada, USA border. Hours and hours, this will be charity time for you. Waiting at customers to unload will be a free donation by you. Figure the number of hours involved in the job and then calculate how many pennies per hour you are actually making. Then figure it again after all the bills come due.

My only advice to you on the purchase of a tractor today would be in my PERSONAL OPINION, --- STAY AWAYÖÖ There are some places out there that treat there O/O's properly as business partners, but I have to admit that they are far and few between. Be very thorough in researching any company that you consider signing on with.

I hope you do not think of this as a doomsday note, but it is what I have seen and experienced myself. I am telling you like it is. --- Whether you approve of it or not, the final decision will be yours.

PS; --- For me, the tanker or float trucking were the best divisions for me to be in. They paid the most for my time, and most all of my time, (Canada / USA border crossings, and waiting at customers for loading or unloading). There really wasn't to much free time on my part. The type of work has to be specialized to get any decent rates.

Well Cliff, I hope I havenít shot down a dream for you, and speaking of shooting, I also hope you donít want to shoot me for this response. (Ha-ha) --- Drop me a note and let me know how you made out. OK? In the meantime, you and your family take care. Catch you later, hopefully a friend, OLD BILL, (Diesel Gypsy).

 

 

There you go; this is my opinion on becoming an owner/operator in this day and age. It certainly has changed in the last few years. Only you can decide on what is best for you. THE DECISION IS ALL YOURS.

Whatever you choose to do; take care, and drive safe, ---

 

 

--------- William (Diesel Gypsy) Weatherstone.           RETURN TO HOME PAGE